The Auk is now floating peacefully by Finn and Shan’s boat in Shilshole Marina. If you scroll down past the “archives” on the right side of the display and click on “the Auk” in the categories list, you will see just the posts describing the build.

Finn & Hannah bringing the Auk from Ballard

Finn & Hannah bringing the Auk from Ballard

Shannon applauds

Shannon applauds

traditional greens

traditional greens

O.K., launch me!

O.K., launch me!

don't forget these

don’t forget these


Shan's benediction

Shan’s benediction

docked at launching ramp

docked at launching ramp

Auk maiden voyage

Auk maiden voyage

Auk at Shilshole Marina

Auk at Shilshole Marina

Note to Iain Oughtred:


We launched the Auk yesterday! She floats high, lightly balanced. Three adults bring her down a few inches, settled and stable. Bone dry. A beautiful design—the boat seems alive, matched with the water, a surface dancer. I once saw a Herreshoff dinghy in Maine, a hundred years old, that had the same quality.

When we recognize something as beautiful, we are inspired and calmed. The harmonies promise or reflect or express a universal order, a higher standard. This order is integrated with the uniqueness of the beautiful object, person, sound… The universal and the unique within each of us are often out of balance. A re-balancing happens when we let out a breath in the presence of beauty.

Several centuries ago, Francis Bacon observed, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” The “strangeness” in the Auk is the sum of my mistakes, irregularities, choices of wood and finish, and the care taken or not taken in small details. No two boats built from your plans will be the same, but each will express the harmonious design.

It has been a challenge, a pleasure, and an honor to build the Auk. Please add my voice to the many who have thanked you for your work.


Auk built!

The Auk is ready for salt water! Here are some last pictures from Finn and Shannon’s garage:

Auk complete

Auk complete

Auk bow

Auk bow

Auk floor boards

Auk floor boards

Auk bow interior

Auk bow interior

The only metals in the boat are the oar locks and some bronze screws and stainless steel fittings for the floors. The center floor board is removable.

The hull is made of 6mm Okume marine plywood. The skeg is Douglas fir. The keel is oak, the stem yellow cedar. The floor boards are alder. The breast hook (the triangular piece in the bow) is purple wood. The knees and stanchions are oak and alder. The thwarts are pine, the gunwales cedar. All is bonded together with West Marine epoxy (great stuff).

The next picture posted will be when she’s on the water!

Auk interior


Almost ready for sea trials! Finn needs only to carve the stem to his liking and install oar locks. Maybe one more coat of Deks Olje. There are about a thousand boats in Shilshole Marina where Finn and Shannon moor their Camper-Nicholson 35; many wonderful boats, but, thanks to Iain Oughtred, none have a prettier dinghy.

Auk stern thwart

Progress on the Auk: stern thwart clamped for epoxying. There was 3/4 of an inch of twist in the pine—had to draw it down level with clamps.

stern thwart clamped for epoxying

close up of seat cleat, fun to cut

Toward the Beautiful

Auk plan from Iain Oughtred

Beauty matters. Why? It is mother and father to excellence, for one thing. Choosing the beautiful alternative is usually wise (though the roar from the broken hearted is not to be ignored). But there is a deeper mystery. Francis Bacon wrote, There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. That is true, isn’t it? An unexpected or asymmetric element energizes the whole.

I have been building a small boat designed by Iain Oughtred whose boats are Celtic and Nordic songs in wood. I sent payment to him on the Isle of Skye and promptly received six sheets of exquisitely drawn plans for the “Auk.” I also bought his book, “Clinker Plywood Boatbuilding Manual,” which is well written and profusely illustrated. His methods do not require expensive tools and years of boatbuilding experience.

The hull is constructed upside down. One begins by cutting molds shaped like scallop shells. They are set vertically, equidistant apart. The first plank (the garboard strake) is fastened to the forward stem and to the keel, a backbone of sorts that stretches from the bow across the tops of the molds to the base of the transom. The second strake overlaps the first and is attached at its ends to the stem and the transom. The port and starboard sides of the hull are identical, each with eight overlapping strakes that have been shaped around the molds. With the first saw cut, the boat begins to deviate slightly from the ideal of the plans. The second strake must overlap the first; it will be affected by the shape of the first. The plans guide, but the reality of the boat dictates. No two boats will be the same.

Hundreds of decisions combine in the eventual boat (is a curve sufficiently fair?), (which wood to use for different parts?), (which finish?), (is that enough sanding?). You, the builder, become involved in subtle ways—the feel of tools in your hand, the smell of epoxy and the peppery smell of sawed yellow cedar, the reaching curve of the bow—as you shape the boat, the boat is shaping you. You are receiving the buoyancy you build.

In anything beautiful, the flaws and strangenesses are the brush strokes of the painter, the maker preserved. We feel the unique within the whole, an integration of our deepest and most opposed realities. We step away refreshed.

There is nothing we do that cannot be done more beautifully.

Auk ready for interior work

Whiskey Plank

celebrating the whiskey plank!

When the final hull plank is fitted, the sheer strake at the bottom, tradition suggests a whiskey or two to mark the moment, a toast to the gods of sharp chisels and planes, good humor, and patience.

Auk—Fifth Strake

bending the fifth strake

This Boat

bending the fifth strake,
where the hull
begins to rise steeply
to the sheer—
eight pairs of strakes, each
tangent to the curve
of the transom,
the curves swelling amidships,
straighter curves forward—
shaped by centuries,
Iain Oughtred’s design,
and the care and mistakes
in the making

This train don’t carry no gamblers,
this train…

This boat don’t carry no liars,
this boat

honors the waters,
the beautiful crossing

Auk scarfing

Some of the Auk’s planks are longer than eight feet and can’t be cut from a single sheet of marine plywood. A scarf joint attaches lumber end-to-end. The recommended ratio of length to width is 8:1, so the Auk’s planking, which is 1/4″ thick, requires a beveled joint that is 2″ long. Stacking the planks and stepping the upper one back 2″, establishes an angle for the plane. Drawing a line 2″ back on the topmost plank shows where the bevel should end.

scarf set up for planing

Here is the joint partially planed. The bottom plank is supported to its end from beneath.

planing the scarf

gluing the scarf

Once the two pieces have been beveled, the topmost is flipped over and glued. The glued joint (epoxy) is stronger than the wood, although not as flexible.

Auk progress

epoxying garboard strake

epoxying second strake

The plywood clamps are Iain Oughtred’s invention. Wedges are driven in to apply the pressure. Not too much pressure is needed with epoxy joints, just enough to keep the pieces together while the epoxy sets.

The strakes were cut with a hand held jigsaw following a line drawn from a full sized “door skin” pattern, 1/8th inch plywood that was first clamped to the molds for marking and cutting. Each pattern needed reclamping and remarking and adjusted cutting until it fit its marks on the molds. This is a neat process, proceding from the plans on paper to marks on molds to an actual pattern. If the molds you make are slightly off, the boat planks will also be slightly off, but the boat will still float. If you tried to cut all the curved planks first and then fit them together, you’d probably end up with a real mess.

clamping second strake to transom

Pam cooking, the secret to boat building